EPA Shifts Stance On Drugs In Water

The issue with <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/defective_drugs">drug residue turning up in water supplies has been covered in this blog many times. This problem represents a significant and growing environmental crisis with potential negative ramifications to human and animal health.

The Associated Press (AP) recently reported that many communities do not test for drugs in drinking water and those that do often fail to tell customers they have found medications, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones. Because of this, no one really knows what health risks the public might face from such exposure.

The AP investigation prompted federal and local legislative hearings, brought about calls for mandatory testing and disclosure, and led officials in at least 27 additional metropolitan areas to analyze their drinking water. As a result, some changes have been made. In Illinois, for example, said the AP, effective with the New Year, health care facilities will be banned from flushing unused drugs into wastewater systems.

Now, the AP is reporting that federal regulators under the new administration have not only changed their position on the issue, but have begun taking action to begin regulation of these contaminants. For instance, said the AP, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed some medications as needing regulation in drinking water—the first move of its kind by the agency. The EPA also implemented a survey to determine a variety of medications at nationwide water treatment plants, said the AP.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reorganized its waste drugs listing for those medications that should be disposed by flushing in the toilet and is planning a program in which consumers can return unused medications, said the AP. The National Toxicology Program is researching the impact of medications at “low environmental levels” on human health, explained the AP.

Most drug residues end up in municipal water supplies through normal bodily functions; however, some end up there because people often dispose of unused medications by flushing them down the toilet. According to a previous article on Slate.com, most government organizations now recommend that consumers dispose of old medications in the trash, rather than the toilet. In 2007, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the EPA, and the Department of Health and Human Services issued the first set of federal guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs. According to Slate.com, these guidelines recommend taking unused medications out of their original packaging, mixing them with other items in the trash that are “undesirable” (for instance, used cat litter), placing the concoction in a zip loc bag, and throwing it in the trash.

The EPA’s study will look for hundreds of “chemical and microbial contaminants” at 50 water treatment plants, said the AP, explaining that 13 pharmaceuticals are already on what the agency calls the “Contaminant Candidate List.” Generally, hormonal drugs were found to be the culprits, but erythromycin—an antibiotic—and three other chemicals are included, said the AP. Some “104 chemical and 12 microbial contaminants” are being considered for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, said the AP, which pointed out that no drug has ever made the list.

Some experts worry about the aggregate damage that these drugs—even in apparently small doses—could do to the human body over time and on a daily basis, especially given that there exist sensitive groups such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women and that the accumulation could have impacts on the medications that various populations take, said the AP.

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